Recall Smear Groups Depended On Out-of-State Cash

Teachers union, businesses, tribe among top state contributors to recall groups

February 10, 2012

Madison – Seven shadowy smear groups that sponsored negative broadcast ads and other activities in last summer’s recall elections raised only $1 in $7 from Wisconsin contributors during the last six months of 2011, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review shows.

These groups (Table) raised a total of $10.2 million from all individuals, businesses and groups between July and December 2011 – $8.8 million from outside Wisconsin and $1.4 million from inside the state, and most of that came from the state’s largest teacher’s union.

In addition, Wisconsin individuals, businesses and groups also donated $335,945 to two other outside electioneering groups – the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association – likely to get involved in this year’s possible recall of Republican Governor Scott Walker. The Republican Governors Association raised a total of $22.1 million and the Democratic Governors Association $8.5 million in the last six months of 2011.

Most of the outside groups that intrude in Wisconsin elections have to file little or no paperwork that identifies their biggest donors or details all of their fundraising and spending because of Wisconsin’s poor disclosure and campaign finance laws. However, groups that have formed arms called 527 advocacy organizations are required to file reports with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service that identify donors to 527 groups though they can raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash.

A Democracy Campaign review found the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund raised nearly $3 million, including about $1.23 million from Wisconsin contributors, in the last six months of 2011. This 527 group is one of four arms operated by a group more commonly known as the Greater Wisconsin Committee formed in 2004 to back Democrats for statewide office and the legislature. Greater Wisconsin spent an estimated $4 million in last summer’s nine recall elections.

The Greater Wisconsin 527 report shows the Wisconsin Education Association Council – the state’s largest teachers union – made three contributions in July, November and December that totaled $1 million. WEAC’s PAC reported directly spending $499,391 in last summer’s recall elections.

WEAC was followed by Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein, a longtime supporter of Democratic candidates and women’s causes, who contributed $150,000 and Herzing University executive Stacey Herzing, also of Milwaukee, who gave the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund $40,000.

After Greater Wisconsin, the Republican Governors Association’s 527 group received $270,855 from Wisconsin contributors in the last half of 2011. The group helps elect Republican candidates for governor across the country and spent an estimated $5 million to help elect Walker in 2010.

Top Wisconsin contributors to the Republican Governors Association’s 527 arm were: the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, $63,850; Forest County Potawatomi Community in Crandon, $50,450; John Link and his family-owned Jack Link’s Beef Jerky in Minong, $28,405; Alliant Energy based in Madison, $25,450; Ashley Furniture owner Todd Wanek of Arcadia, $25,000; and Milwaukee financial consultant Richard Strong owner of Baraboo Growth LLC, $25,000.

In addition to its $63,850 contribution to the GOP governor’s group, the Milwaukee chamber of commerce also gave $45,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee for a total of $108,850 in donations in the last six months of 2011 to outside smear groups involved in last summer’s recalls. Its total ranked third among Wisconsin contributors to 527 groups involved in the recalls, behind WEAC and Uihlein.

The other 527 groups involved in the summer recalls and their Wisconsin contributions in the last half of 2011 were the Democratic Governors Association, $65,090; the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, $55,000; the Republican State Leadership Committee, $46,630; GOPAC, $42,235; Progressive Change Campaign Committee, $26,970; Democracy for America, $15,000; and the Presidential Coalition LLC, $6,295.

The largest contributors to the Democratic Governors Association were Johnson Controls in Milwaukee at $51,300 and Renaissance Learning, an educational software maker in Madison, at $10,000. Unlike its Republican counterpart, the Democratic governors group has not directly sponsored outside electioneering activities in the past two Wisconsin gubernatorial elections. Instead it has funneled unknown, but likely large amounts of cash to other Democratic groups, including Greater Wisconsin.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s largest contributions were $25,000 from EMM Holdings, a company owned by Brookfield lawyer Emmanuel Mamalakis and $15,000 from Kwik Trip based in La Crosse. The Washington D.C.-based group backs Democratic legislative candidates nationwide and spent an estimated $400,000 in last summer’s recalls.

The bulk of the Republican State Leadership Committee’s 527 contributions came from the $45,000 contribution by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. The Virginia-based group backs Republican candidates for state office nationwide and spent an estimated $800,000 in last summer’s recall elections.

GOPAC is a Washington-based group that supports conservative causes and Republican candidates nationwide and formed a state arm – GOPAC Wisconsin – that spent $38,608 in last summer’s recall elections. The largest Wisconsin contributors to GOPAC’s 527 group came from four individuals who each gave $10,000: timber industry executives Tom Talbot of Glen Oak Lumber and Milling in Portage and William Johnson Jr. whose family owns Johnson Timber in Hayward; Joseph E. Richardson II, owner of Richardson Industries in Oostburg; and Terry Kohler, a longtime backer of conservative causes and candidates and owner of Windway Capital in Sheboygan.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee got $25,000 of its total $26,970 in state contributions from Stacey Herzing. The group was formed in 2009 to help Democratic candidates and teamed with Democracy for America to spend an estimated $1.3 million in last summer’s recalls. Democracy for America received its single $15,000 contribution from the We Are Wisconsin Political Action Committee based in Milwaukee, but formed and funded by a coalition of national labor unions. The PAC spent $10.75 million – the most of any group in last summer’s recall elections.

The Presidential Coalition, which supports conservative causes and candidates for state and federal office nationwide, received $6,295 from two dozen Wisconsin contributors who each gave between $35 and $400. The Washington D.C.-based group, which spent an estimated $400,000 in the summer recall elections, is affiliated with the conservative Citizens United group whose court case lead to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates of corporate and union money now seen in state and national elections.

Contributions to 527 Groups Involved InWisconsin’s 2011 Recall Elections
July – December 2011

Name Wisconsin
Greater Wisconsin Political Fund $1,228,070 $1,746,776 $2,974,846
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee $55,000 $1,853,803 $1,908,803
Republican State Leadership Committee $46,630 $1,991,942 $2,038,572
GOPAC $42,235 $102,896 $145,131
Progressive Change Campaign Committee $26,970 $564,375 $591,345
Democracy for America $15,000 $150,660 $165,660
Presidential Coalition $6,295 $2,383,605 $2,389,900
TOTAL $1,420,200 $8,794,057 $10,214,257